PORTLAND, Maine, US: Greater access to oral healthcare requires more qualified dentists. That is the message from the University of New England College of Dental Medicine, which has increased its enrolment after comprehensive dental coverage was afforded to low-income adults in Maine last year.
The College of Dental Medicine (CDM) said in a statement that it will expand the number of its enrolment places from 64 to 72, starting in autumn 2023. Six of the new places will be in the college’s four-year Doctor of Dental Medicine programme, and the remaining two will be in its Advanced Standing Track programme, a two-year course of study that helps dentists who were trained outside of the US to gain a licence to practise in the country. College facilities are already undergoing renovations in order to accommodate larger class sizes, the university said in a press release.
American Dental Association (ADA) figures show that Maine had 752 dentists last year and a population of 1.4 million people, meaning that its ratio of 54.8 dentists per 100,000 inhabitants was well below the national ratio of 60.8 per 100,000.
“In short, this means that too many Mainers are not able to easily and regularly access dental care, leading to skipped visits, ignored issues, and larger long-term consequences when routine matters become emergency needs,” CDM Interim Dean Dr Nicole Kimmes commented in the press release. She added: “[We] take seriously the role and responsibility our students have in creating an oral health safety net for Maine residents, particularly for those who are underserved.”
A total of 377 dentists have graduated from the college since it was established in 2013, and around one-quarter of all graduates are licensed to practise dentistry in Maine. Of those, some 40% work in parts of the state that the university said are currently lacking an adequate provision of oral healthcare.
In July last year, Maine joined the growing number of US states that offer extensive dental benefits to adults as part of the Medicaid national health insurance programme. The state’s 217,000 low-income adults now have access to comprehensive dental coverage, whereas they previously only qualified for free emergency dental care. Beacon, a website and podcast created by the Maine People’s Alliance, reported at the time that advocates had long campaigned for the change. Resident Kayla Kalel said: “From my own experience I know that getting dental care will mean so much to single mothers, to students, to people in recovery, to people who are interviewing for a job, to people who just want to stay healthy so they can take care of their kids.”
Under the Medicaid scheme, US states must provide dental benefits to children, but there are no minimum requirements for the coverage of adult dental care. According to the ADA Health Policy Institute, in 2021 there were three states (Alabama, Maryland and Tennessee) that provided no coverage for adult dental care and nine states (Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah) that provided emergency care only.